As the MeadowGrass Music Festival returns this weekend, it’s sending a message.

Live music is back.

The three-day festival held over Memorial Day weekend has long been known as the kickoff to summer in the Pikes Peak region. Now, it’s also one of the first big festivals to be held in Colorado Springs in 2021, after 14 months of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the live music industry.

“It means we will successfully present a family-friendly and safe outdoor event in a time when we need it so desperately,” said Nicole Nicoletta, executive director of Rocky Mountain Highway, the nonprofit that puts on the festival.

Like a long list of other events, MeadowGrass was canceled in 2020. As planning began for this year’s fest, Nicoletta said she and her team were “cautiously optimistic” about being able to host some version of MeadowGrass. By early March, they pulled the trigger.

“We were planning for COVID restrictions while also recognizing that we didn’t know what was going to be happening come May,” she said. “But we just had to move forward.”

MeadowGrass is shaping up to be close to normal with hundreds of people gathering for local, regional and national music acts at the “musical getaway” of La Foret Conference Center in Black Forest. There will be zero COVID restrictions because it’s an outdoor and unseated event.

Festivalgoers will get to continue a tradition that started in 2009, when MeadowGrass launched.

“There are families that this is what they do every single Memorial weekend,” Nicoletta said. “It’s an iconic festival in the Pikes Peak region and very special to many.”

It has also gotten a reputation for its strong lineup of up and coming musical acts.

And credit goes to Steve Harris, who books the music and helped found the festival.

“He has this incredible skill of finding musicians who are right on the edge of incredible stardom,” Nicoletta said. “So they’re amazing and we can afford them.”

It’s happened with acts like Nathaniel Rateliff and Judah and the Lion.

“You see them at MeadowGrass and the next thing you know, you’re going to see the same act at Red Rocks,” she said. “That is some of the magic of this festival.”

Rocky Mountain Highway wanted to honor Harris and “the magic” he brings to the festival. So this weekend will include the unveiling of the Steve Harris Songwriter of the Year Award. Young songwriters 18 and under had the opportunity to enter the contest and winners will be announced Sunday at the festival.

There’s more than music on tap, including aerial dancers, food vendors and a beer festival that will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

It will all add up to the first glimpse of live music’s return.

“We’ve always been called the event to kick off summer,” Nicoletta said. “That’s who we are and we’re not going to let people down this year.”

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